The Tennessee legislature is calling a special session on public safety on Monday to discuss what steps it plans to take to curb gun violence. Some lawmakers are pointing to mental health care as the solution, but I hope they seek psychiatrist’s input on this issue.
Before I became a psychiatrist, I learned about psychiatry from my brother who was a patient. There were some doctors he hated going to see, but there were others he liked. It turns out that the good man is also the one whose therapy helped him the most. He died when I was in high school and I decided to become a mental health professional. I studied psychology and medicine here in Tennessee and moved to the Northeast and Midwest for psychiatric training. I knew that one day I would come back and use my skills to help, but I had no idea how broken the system I would be participating in.
Drafted by Rep. Jason Zachary (R, Knoxville) House Bill 7008 , which lowers the threshold for involuntary psychiatric involvement. He wrote that mental health professionals should report “perceived” threats of violence against individuals or groups, and we should “anticipate” acts of violence. As someone who has been in the business for many years, I can say that this proposal does more harm than good.
If Zachary asks, I would point out that I have already notified subjects of threats of violence by authorities and patients. The bill would lower the bar from reporting threats by a person claiming intent to do so to reporting vaguely defined hazard expectations or perceptions.
We need gun reform, but using mental illness as a scapegoat is a misunderstanding or dishonest discussion. As someone who has conducted risk assessments and participated in involuntary engagements, this bill is an illusion. Predicting who will be violent is an admirable goal, but everyone, including doctors, is bad at it.
As someone who has conducted risk assessments and participated in involuntary engagements, this bill is an illusion. Predicting who will be violent is an admirable goal, but everyone, including doctors, is bad at it. Medicine works based on probabilities and data, and using them to predict rare outcomes results in many false predictions.
Data show that firearms are the leading cause of death among young people. Most murders are done with guns. Most suicides are by gun.
As a psychiatrist, I know that the only thing that puts you at a higher risk of homicide or suicide than gun use is a history of violence or attempted suicide. By Zachary’s logic, this proposal would lock people in hospitals. Part of the reason is because they own guns, which remain there after they are released.
It is the last reported case of a patient being placed against his or her will in a locked ward. This is not a benign process. During hospitalization, a person loses their freedom, privacy, and civil rights. This bill will create new problems without solving any of the problems we already have.
We need gun reform, but using mental illness as a scapegoat is a misunderstanding or dishonest discussion. This proposal won’t make us any safer, but we can learn from other states about which ideas actually work.
It all started with Gov. Bill Lee’s call for an Emergency Risk Protection Order.of the previous session HB1580/SB1570Bills drafted by Rep. Justin Jones and Sen. Charlene Oliver (both Nashville Democrats) strengthen public safety and should be reinstated. The American Medical Association advocates regulating ghost guns and placing warning labels on ammunition. Other proven methods include universal background checks and banning violent offenders from purchasing firearms. All of this must be considered, as the health and safety of all Tennesseans is at stake.